I recently read the chapter, Digital Literacies: Virtually Connecting and Collaboratively Building Knowledge, from the book, Literacy Tools in the Classroom, by Richard Beach et al. Here are my thoughts:
As members of the future workforce and society, today’s students require guidance and education in order to successfully navigate and utilize the digital world that they were born into. Acknowledging the importance of becoming digitally literate, Beach, Campano, Edmiston, and Borgmann (2010, p. 109) share four literacy skills that students develop through the use of various digital tools. The authors summarize the literacies of multimodality, hyperlinking, connectivity, and collaboration through short explanatory narratives and provide examples of tools that can be utilized to address each literacy (Beach et al. 2010, p. 109-117). Since the chapter’s publication in 2010 the prevalence of social media has increased rapidly and provides further platforms for students to develop these literacies. The plethora of information that is available online requires students to think critically about what is being presented to them and the ability to analyze the validity of information is an essential skill that I feel should have been identified as a stand alone form of literacy. It is these topics that will serve as the foundation of this review.
The authors use classroom narratives to illustrate the seemingless endless possibilities of how to use various digital tools to build student literacy. Beach et al (2010, p. 107) encourages educators to embrace new digital tools, “Rather than limit the use of such tools in schools, it is essential that teachers build on and add their own crucial dimension to these media.” The authors argue that the following literacy skills should be acquired: (1) multimodality, the ability to combine text, images, video, and audio to create a cohesive publication, (2) hyperlinking, “knowing how to understand and employ intertextual connections between different ideas”, (3) connectivity, the ability to use communication tools to network with others, and (4) collaboration, the ability to work with others to achieve a finished product (Beach et al, 2010, p. 109-117). While it can be easy to assume that students have an increased knowledge base when it comes to digital literacy, having teachers provide purposeful education and ongoing modelling that is tailored to be relevant and meaningful for their students gives students support to build their digital skill repertoire.
In 2015 95% of grade 11 students in Canada identified that they had at least one type of social media account (Steeves, 2015, p. 31) and over 50% admitted to having constant online access through a personal device (Steeves, 2015, p. 16). This is a steep increase from 2011 statistics which identified that 76% of Canadian high school students had at least one type of social media account in which they averaged three hours of use daily (van Hamel, 2011, p. 13). The authors share that developing an online identity assists in student engagement as they are provided with a sense of agency and a platform in which to communicate with an audience outside of their local peers and teachers (Beach et al, 2010, p. 108-109). While the chapter briefly mentions Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace it does not provide any examples of how these tools could be utilized in the development of the four literacies mentioned previously; an aspect I believe would change drastically if this chapter were to be revisited.
In addition to the expanded skill set identified by the authors, students’ digital understanding needs to reach beyond basic fluency tasks and include higher-level thinking skills like information analysis (Media Awareness Network, 2010, p. 4). In a 2015 survey, it was identified that Canadian teachers need to educate students on the importance of utilizing digital literacy skills such as authenticating online information at all times and not just in the context of the classroom (Steeves, 2014, p. 22). Furthermore, students have identified that they wish they learned more digital skills in the classroom, with identifying how to critique the validity of online information topping students’ knowledge wish lists (Steeves, 2014, pp. 25-31). The authors briefly touch on this skill within their subheading of connectivity (Beach et al, 2010, p. 113), “...given the vast amount of information available, students also need to be able to search for, filter, and adjudicate the relevance, validity, and currency of information.” Considering that only half of students check to see if online information can be backed up by facts (Steeves, 2014, p. 4) despite the Manitoba english curriculum addressing validity, accuracy, and credibility multiple times across multiple grades through general outcome three, “manage ideas and information”, leads me to believe that this aspect should have been identified as a stand alone form of literacy worthy of its own section.
In conclusion, it is necessary that today’s students receive guidance and education in order for them to successfully navigate and utilize the digital world that they were born into. Within my classroom students are expected to not only develop their digital literacy skills but also their digital citizenship skills. One way we work towards this goals is by maintaining a classroom blog that serves as a cross curricular activity where student posts cover science and history content in my classes but must also meet certain writing criteria for their English teacher. Their posts also receive comments from students in other schools and viewers all over the world. For educators interested in learning about how to address digital literacy the authors provide an in depth yet straightforward narrative that can assist educators regardless of their personal comfort with technology.
Beach, R., Campano, G., Edmiston, B., & Borgmann, M. (2010). Literacy tools in the classroom:
Teaching through critical inquiry, grades, 5-12. New York: Teachers College Press. (Chapter on Digital Literacy)
Manitoba Education & Training. (2016). English language arts: Curriculum documents.
Retreived May 28, 2016, from http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/ela/curdoc.html
Media Awareness Network. (2010, July 7). Digital literacy in Canada: From inclusion to
transformation. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/publication-report/full/digitalliteracypaper.pdf
Steeves, V. (2014). Young Canadians in a wired world, phase III: Experts or amateurs? Gauging
young Canadians’ digital literacy skills. Ottawa: MediaSmarts. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/publication-report/full/YCWWIII_Experts_or_Amateurs.pdf
Steeves, V. (2015). Young Canadians in a wired world, phase III: Trends and recommendations.
Ottawa: MediaSmarts. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/publication-report/full/ycwwiii_trends_recommendations_fullreport.pdf
van Hamel, A. (2011). From consumer to citizen: Digital media and youth civic engagement.
Ottawa: Media Awareness Network. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/publication-report/full/civic-engagement_0.pdf